Basketball

Tokashiki getting used to dual demands

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

As a two-time WJBL MVP and a Seattle Storm player, Ramu Tokashiki is undoubtedly the biggest star in Japanese women’s basketball right now. But even for a superwoman like her, it’s not easy to adjust while playing in two different leagues.

After the Storm were eliminated in the first round of the WNBA playoffs in late September (the Storm lost 94-85 to the Atlanta Dream in the single-elimination game), Tokashiki returned home and switched to JX-Eneos Sunflowers jersey, and without getting much rest. Bear in mind that she also played at this summer’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics, where Japan successfully advanced to the quarterfinals. So she’s been playing ball all year.

In the Sunflowers’ season-opening game against the Fujitsu Red Wave in Tokyo last Friday, Tokashiki didn’t look like her normal self. She seemed sluggish and kept missing shots, even when she was close to the rim. The 193-cm center/forward (she’s more of a small forward with the Storm) was 5-for-13 from inside the arc for 11 points, while she had 11 rebounds and four turnovers.

After the Sunflowers’ 76-61 win at Tokyo’s Yoyogi National Gymnasium No. 2, Tokashiki didn’t directly admit that her mediocre performance — by her standards, when she plays in Japan — stemmed from the fatigue that has built up in her body. But she didn’t deny it either.

“I’ve got to manage my (physical) conditioning,” the 25-year-old Tokashiki said. “So I don’t really want to make excuses, and that’s where I’m at now. If people thought I was (sluggish), I respect what they think. I’d just like to not look like that tomorrow.”

Sunflowers head coach Tom Hovasse said that her roles are completely different with the Sunflowers and the Storm, where she’s not the tallest player and is asked to play more on the outside. He added that Tokashiki doesn’t really get double-teamed in the WNBA while she’s surrounded by two to three defenders all the time in Japan.

“When she plays in the WJBL, every time she touches the ball, there’s three people. There’s no space (for her to take shots),” Hovasse said. “So right now, she’s transitioning from the WNBA to WJBL style of basketball. Right now, she might be a little frustrated in terms of what’s going on, and you can see it in her play. You can tell she’s not completely comfortable right now, but that’ll come.”

Asked what she wants to bring to the JX-Eneos team from what she’s learned in the WNBA, Tokashiki slowly replied with a wry smile, “It’s a bit of a difficult question.”

“Probably the mindset to attack the basket, and rebounding,” said Tokashiki, who averaged 5.3 points and 2.5 rebounds playing in 31 games (one start) in her second season with the Storm this year. “Hopefully, I can do what I’ve done on the international stage (at the Olympics) and America.”

The two-time FIBA Asia Championship MVP added that the one-one-one skills she’s developed over the years have helped her play in the WNBA and the Olympics.

Tokashiki, the tallest player in the WJBL, has worked on her outside skills with Hovasse over the last few years with the goal of going to the WNBA but is required to play closer to the hoop in Japan. But Hovasse wants her to keep working to become more of a complete player.

And by that he means that Tokashiki also needs to train her mindset to be an outside player, not just her jump shot and driving skills.

“It’s more of her thought processes, because she had never played on the outside up until last year,” said Hovasse, who was promoted to head coach from the assistant role he had for the Sunflowers last season. “So there’s a whole lot that you have to do. You have to make decisions quicker, you’ve got to figure things out, you’ve got to see the floor. That takes time.”

Meanwhile, Hovasse gives Tokashiki credit for her mental growth over the years.

“She comes to work every single day, she doesn’t complain, she wants to get better, she works hard,” Hovasse said of Tokashiki. “And she’s a superstar. When you have a superstar, people follow. So we’re lucky. I mean, she’s really turned into a good basketball player and she’s going to get better.”

Tokashiki finished Saturday’s second game of the season against the Red Wave in better fashion, going 7-for-11 from the field for 15 points and having just one turnover, in a 72-59 win for the eight-time defending WJBL champ Sunflowers.